Supporting Your Student Through Stress: Look to the Calendar

A young person reads their phone next to the clothes dryer while waiting for laundry to dry, a common activity for many college students returning from home from school during breaks.
It is common for the unknowns of college life to create stress for new students at the start of fall semester. But university life has stressors for students at all levels, and spring semester comes with unique challenges, too. To best support your student, keep these things in mind:

 

November

• As academic pressure begins to mount, some students may struggle with procrastination and work difficulty.
• Depression and anxiety may increase for students who feel they haven’t yet adjusted to college life.
• Summer job funds begin drying up, creating economic stress.
• First-year students may experience romantic breakups with partners from high school while visiting home for Thanksgiving, based on new opportunities at college and the challenges of long-distance relationships.
• Some students stop trying to build new friendships beyond the small number they’ve started.

 

December

• Energy drains because of extra-curricular stress with end-of-semester and holiday-themed social events or service projects.
• Anxiety and fear increase as exams loom.
• Pre-break depression can start for students with no home to visit, or strained family relationships that await them.
• Travel and holiday gift expenses cause financial strain.
• Romantic relationships may feel strained because of the upcoming separation during winter break.

 

January

• Post-holiday blues may settle in.
• Transitions back to school from an extended break at home may be difficult.

 

February

• Crossing the mid-year “hump” gives some students optimism.
• Decisions about majors and careers can cause anxiety.
• Depression can increase for students who have failed to establish social relationships.

 

March

• Alcohol use can increase with warming spring weather, and continue as the semester moves to conclusion.
• Academic expectations begin to increase.
• The anticipated separation from friends and college life can spark depression.
• Seniors may experience feelings of existential crisis as they consider their futures.

 

April

• Academic pressures continue to mount as projects and papers become due.
• Stress about summer employment may begin.
• Social pressures increase with attendance needed at events, banquets, meetings.

 

May

• Anxiety rises as classes end and work is due.
• Seniors may feel panic about employment.
• Depression may begin after leaving school and resuming life with family.

 

With credit to “A Model for Identifying and Responding to Stress Periods of Students,” by Paul Larson and William Laramie of Berea College, published in the journal NASPA, and to Widener Associate Dean of Students Catherine Feminella.

Navigating New Boundaries as they Spread Their Wings

A calendar with a push pin placed on a date with the reminder ''reach your goals'', emphasizing the importance of following a calendar to predict stressors on college students.

Your Widener student bounces through the door with a bag of laundry in hand, asking to borrow the car as they prepare to meet up with their high school pack. And so the holiday break begins! Things will be a little different this year, as your child returns home only to exert their independence after several weeks experiencing the new found freedoms of college.

We asked Angela Corbo, chair of Widener’s Communication Studies department, about advice for parents on fostering their children’s independence while maintaining boundaries in the family environment. Here are some great tips for managing the shifting family dynamic and for evolving at home with your emerging adult.

– Foster the sense of autonomy by sharing how you respect that they are becoming an adult, but let them know there are continued expectations in the household to show that same respect to their family.

– Example: They may not have a curfew anymore, but in order to respect the household and not wake everyone up at 2 a.m., or make parents worry, agree upon a reasonable time to get home.

 

– Understand their boundaries for direction. You may want them to take certain classes next semester or join a specific activity but allow them to architect their choices as well. Prompting and providing input can help students understand a good starting point rather than telling them what to do.

 

– Acknowledge to them what you are feeling, too. “This is hard for me as well. I’m your mom and always want to be a part of your life. It’s difficult to make this transition into a time when you don’t need me as much.” Remind them that you are coming from a good place – one of love and respect.

 

– Approach them if you think they are struggling with emotions, simply to ensure they are OK. It is natural for them to resist, and you should not take that personally. Commit together to getting them help when and where it is needed. (Take a walk together, grab a cup of coffee – talk in a place they are comfortable with you.)

 

Students will always need the guidance of their parents and caring family members. Acknowledge the change and make the journey an open conversation toward balance.